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Free Speech Applies to All
Earlier this week, revisionist historian David Irving was sentenced in an Austrian court to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust, an act which is illegal under Austrian Law.
The facts are the Holocaust did occur, and in a 1989 speech in Austria, David Irving did deny it. But, should this be illegal?
Just about the only people who believed his nonsense were neo-Nazis, Christian Identity zealots, and other assorted anti-Semites who, regardless of their claims of disbelieving the reality of the murder of millions, would be just as happy to accept the event occurred and get about planning a second round. Irving only provided a thin veneer of respectability to their fringe beliefs.
Irving did more damage through his methodology which appears to have been adopted wholesale by the ID promoters, along with the pedlars of all sorts of nonsense. That is, first ignore the vast body of evidence, then misinterpret a few fragments to deny the truth, then claim the existence of controversy which needs to be "taught."
Still, when those who promote wrong-headed ideas can do so in public, their full argument can be exposed to critical analysis and debunking. Forced underground as "secret truths which the government does not want you to hear about," the lies achieve a backhanded validation, particularly amongst those who believe the world is run by secret cabals and conspiracies.
When democracies decide to legislate the truth, they set a bad example. Just as laws can be passed to prevent teaching a falsehood, laws can be passed to prevent teaching truth. Should we let governments determine what is truth? If Austria can legislate it illegal to teach the Holocaust never happened, why should the anti-Semite president of Iran not introduce a law making it illegal to teach it did happen? It is not all that improbable; in Turkey, where the Armenian genocide remains a genuine controversy, it remains illegal to suggest it actually happened. Nearly all Islamic countries make it illegal to suggest Islam is in error.
Our right to free speech is inherently linked to the same right being extended to others, even those we totally disagree with. Horrific as the Holocaust was, its historical truth should merit no special legal protection over the other known facts of history, or over the known facts of science, or over religious beliefs.
It is preferable that nonsense and lies be dealt with in the open through an encounter with the facts rather than being made illegal and driven underground to fester and spread.
Regardless of the good intentions of Austria's law and similar laws in several other countries, it is a misguided law.